31 August 2015

Langevin's Masterpiece; McClelland's Disappointment



Orphan Street [Une Chaîne dans le parc]
André Langevin [trans., Alan Brown]
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1976

Jack McClelland thought Orphan Street was the most important novel to have come out of French Canada since The Tin Flute. I can't agree, but I will say that it's just about the greatest thing I've read this year. And it's been a very good year.

Orphan Street didn't exactly set McClelland's house on fire; not only was it a commercial failure, the critics couldn't get it up. The publisher himself kept pushing it in the press long after sales had proven limp. Ever the optimist, five months after publication he wrote Langevin:
There are a lot of people around the country now who have read it, are talking about it and who are recommending it, and it would not entirely surprise me if it turned out to be a slow starter that will eventually gain momentum and do extremely well.
     Unquestionably one of the difficulties with the book in English is that it starts more slowly than the English-reading public have come to expect. They found the opening chapter slow, somewhat baffling….
Orphan Street isn't such a difficult a novel, but the first chapter is a real challenge, immersing the reader in the elaborate phantasies of young protagonist Pierrot. A nine-year-old veteran of a Catholic orphanage, Pierrot has been removed – with sudden jerk – from his uncomfortable confines by the bachelor brother and three spinster sisters of his deceased mother. Their motivation, such as it is, probably has something to do with familial duty. The thinking is that maybe, just maybe, the boy doesn't take after his cheating drunk of a father. In truth, they passed judgement before he arrived.

It sounds awful, I know, but you can't feel too bad about Pierrot. With their disinterest comes freedom.


Pierrot's new home with Uncle Nap and aunts lies in the shadow of the Jacques Cartier Bridge; the Molson brewery squats at one end like a big brown brick. Consumptive Gaston, known to all as "the Rat", rummages through the refuse and deals in black-market goods. I spoil nothing in writing that he'll be dead before the novel's end. Before he goes, the Rat serves as a guide to the boy's little corner of Second World War Montreal. Pierrot quickly makes friends with Jane, the very pretty red-haired anglaise in the adjacent apartment, with whom he spends a summer roaming city streets, parks and wharves, sharing adventures the likes of which I daren't have dreamt at his age.

There is joy in life lived outside walls. Where the past was one of routine populated by abusive older boys and the same grey nuns, each new day brings new experiences and people he had no idea existed.   Pierrot's exuberance, his passion for the new and his interest in other people are all that his aunts cannot abide.

No, Orphan Street is not so difficult a novel, though later scenes will disturb. It's not so difficult until one remembers that the author spent much of his own childhood in a Quebec orphanage. Langevin's experience may not have resembled precisely that of Pierrot – the author would've been ten or so years older – but there is discomfort in the recognition. The best one can say is that Lemelin was spared the unique horrors suffered by the Duplessis Orphans.

Pierrot?

Orphan Street came and went in less than a season; there was no second printing and no paperback edition. The novel was considered for New Canadian Library – McClelland's recommendation, I expect – but this went nowhere.

The time is overdue for Orphan Street to be properly recognized. It's too much to expect the translation to do as Jack McClelland hoped – "extremely well" – but it does deserve a return to print.

Sheila Fischman considers it a masterpiece.

Trivia: In the same letter to Langevin, McClelland writes that a translation of L'Élan d'Amérique is "being considered by our editors at the present time." Thirty-eight years later, Orphan Street remains the second and last of the author's titles to have appeared in English.

Object: Two hundred and eighty-seven pages in rose-coloured cloth with silver stamping. Where it not for the brilliant cover painting by Jean Paul Lemieux, I'd have considered it a prime example of McClelland & Stewart's bland 'seventies designs. The image fits the novel so perfectly – Pierrot is blonde, this is his neighbourhood, the Jacques Cartier Bridge is in the background – that I can't help but wonder whether it was commissioned for the book. But how can that be? Lemieux's work hangs in the National Gallery and fetches millions. And where is the painting today? I can't find a trace.

I bought my copy of Orphan Street thirty years ago at the Book Market in Dollard des Ormeaux. Price: $1.95. The book has survived thirteen moves, including two to the West Coast. It was terrible shape when I bought it. Honest.

Access: Lippincott brought the novel out in the United States. Very Good copies of it and the McClelland & Stewart edition can be bought online for eight dollars.

Orphan Street is easily found in our colleges and universities, though no more than a handful of our public libraries have held on to their copies. Interestingly, Alan Brown's translation is more easily found south of the border.

Une Chaîne dans le parc has never been out of print. It's currently published by Boréal (above). Used copies of past editions are listed online for as little as three American dollars.

Related posts:

25 August 2015

Toronto, Life, the Subliminal Seduction of the Innocent and a Morley Callaghan Mystery



Toronto Life, vol. 4, no. 7 (7 June 1970)

There are jokes to be made about Toronto Life having to travel two hours outside the city for a cover story, but this Montrealer is above all that. What's more, this Montrealer deserves credit for saving this magazine from the pulper.

Just look at that cover!

It would've been displayed at United Cigar Stores four years before I made the leap from Allancroft Elementary to Beaconsfield High. A to B, it was at the latter that I encountered Wilson Bryan Key's Subliminal Seduction, the closest thing the school library had to a dirty book.

Key, who taught briefly at the University of Western Ontario, saw sex everywhere. In fact, he claimed the very word – SEX – was written in caps on images of ice cubes used in ads for hard liquor.

SEX on ice? I couldn't see it – and as a twelve year-old I was really looking. That said, my fifty-two year-old self did notice something about the cover of this old Toronto Life.

Do you?

Different times, right? This is the issue's subscription card:


Forty-five years have passed. "Stratford As You'll Like It", the promised "Fun guide to Stratford the turned-on town", is now as dated as author David Smith's wardrobe.


Smith's hook, dull and lacking a lure, is all about how much the town has changed since the Stratford Festival's 1953 beginning:
Boutiques now line Ontario Street where the dry goods shops used to be. The "hippies" on the street are probably townspeople. Stratford even has its own topless dancer, at 56" more for your money than anywhere else I know.
It doesn't say much that Smith failed to interest the local historian in me, though I did enjoy the photos, like this one of nearby St Marys, where I now live.


Like something from another century… which, of course, it is. And look, here's the author in Olin Brown's, "where confectionary is still made by hand – and tastes delicious."


Toronto Life informs that David Smith is a "Toronto couturier".

Odd how few recognizable names feature in the bylines. This Toronto Life is no Montrealer: no short stories, no poetry, no book reviews; though you will find an automotive column, a cooking column and a column concerning interior decoration.

Not to say that literary types didn't contribute. Our very own E.L. James, Marika Robert, whose lone novel A Stranger and Afraid I read last year, has a travel piece on Rome. Eric LeBourdais, nephew of Gwethalyn Graham, provides a very long article: "Why We Need the Spadina and How It Can Lead Toronto into the 21st Century", in which he draws on a study by automotive industry front General Research Corporation of Burbank, California.


Heather Cooper's illustrations did not convince, though I did marvel at those demonstrating how the proposed expressway "would skirt Casa Loma and provide a partial interchange at Davenport":


"READ ON FOR FACTS ABOUT THE SPADINA AND THE FUTURE" encourages the magazine, between ads for General Motors, Shell, Chrysler, Chevrolet, Maserati and a Lincoln Mercury dealership.

To be perfectly fair, the same  issue features a snap of novelist David Lewis Stein making the rounds in his fight against the very same project.


I'm afraid that the only other sign of Toronto's literary scene comes through a recycled press release:


Thumbs Down on Julien Jones – note correct title – "his first book in seven years", was never published; I've been keeping an eye out for decades. Callaghan began the novel in 1942 as his follow-up to More Joy in Heaven. Twenty-one years later, he told the New York Times that it was a month from completion. And here it is again in 1970, presented as something on the cusp of publication.

Callaghan read four excerpts on CBL. Some of it was adapted and published in 1973 as a short story, "The Meterman, Caliban, and Then Mr. Jones", in son Barry's Exile. The following year, the same was dramatized in an episode of the CBC's The Play's the Thing.

I keep expecting Thumbs Down on Julien Jones to be published; Library and Archives Canada holds several drafts. Of And Then It All Came Together, described in Toronto Life as a novel in progress, there is no trace; nothing with that title is found amongst his papers. Throughout the latter half of 1970, Callaghan talked about the work as something he wouldn't talk about.

Maybe not talking about it was enough.

Could be I've said too much.

I'll shut up.



RIP

I would be remiss not to recognize that Morley Callaghan died twenty-five years ago today. His was the last death of which I learned by way of a newspaper. I was walking across Square St-Henri when I read the news on the front page of the Gazette.

Different times, right?


Related posts:

21 August 2015

The Neverending Story without a Name


A follow-up to Monday's very long post on The Story without a Name. Was it the longest? I can't be sure. This one will be shorter. Promise.
Meet Laverne Caron, winner of the contest to give name to the story without a name… or is it that he renamed The Story without a Name? Anyway, he won with Without Warning.


Pauline Pogue of Ulvalde, Texas, placed second for Phantom Powers. Third prize went to Victor Carlyle Spies of Barrett, California. He suggested The Love Dial, which was easily the worst title of the lot. Yes, worse than The Courage of Alan Holt, The Secret of Alan Holt and The Adventures of Alan Holt, all of which made the short list and were awarded cash prizes.

Thomas M. Malloy of Quebec City was the lone Canadian winner. I regret to report that his suggested title, Rays of Death, wasn't terribly imaginative; after all, the story revolves around the invention of a death ray. The Death Beam was another finalist.

Laverne Caron deserved to win. Without Warning was by far the best title. It suggests immediacy, action, and – bonus – recycles a word from The Story without a Name.*

Photoplay, September 1926
The $2500 award allowed Caron to quit his job as a machinist and devote his life to writing. The January 1925 issue of Photoplay was most enthusiastic:
In spite of his youth, Mr. Caron has already won a prize in the Author's League contest. He used the money won in that contest to take a course with the Palmer Institute of Authorship.
     His ambition is to obtain a position as a staff scenariast and make picture-writing his life work.
And that's the last we've ever heard of Laverne Caron.

Russell Holman had a better time of it. An ad man, he had a steady gig at Paramount that lasted well into the 'fifties. The Story without a Name was his second and final collaboration with Arthur Stringer. As with the first, Manhandled, the Canadian provided the basic story and a few chapters; Holman did the rest.

Stringer's initial contributions, untouched by Holman's hand, ran August through November 1924 in the pages of Photoplay. Neglected American illustrator Douglas Duer provided the pictures. He did a good job in capturing the melodrama of it all, though I do wonder about that second October illustration. Could be that he saw the episode as just too silly. I know I did.

Enjoy!

August 1924
August 1924
September 1924

September 1924
October 1924
October 1924
November 1924
November 1924
A Bonus:

19181 Dunbury Ave, Detroit, home of the man who named The Story without a Name.
* Might Caron have been influenced by the conclusion to chapter eleven (of twenty-six)? Seems a stretch, but I'm putting it out there:
"Better grab some sleep now, buddy," he said grimly to Alan. "Because you're in for a big day. And no more monkey-shines or I'll blow your head off without giving you the warning I did the last time."
Related post:
Jazz Age Death Ray, Baby!

17 August 2015

Jazz Age Death Ray, Baby!



The Story without a Name
Arthur Stringer and Russell Holman
New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1924

The story without a name is not nearly as important as its title. Any old story would've done. It's pure product, born of Hollywood, conceived as a gimmick: release a film "without a name" and offer cash for title suggestions.

How closely the novel matches the product is anyone's guess; it's a lost film. And because it's a lost film, I'll be posting all eight stills featured in the book. And because you're unlikely to read the novel – there's no reason why you should – I'll be sketching out the plot from beginning to end.


This is the second Stringer I've read this year to feature a car crash. In the first, The Wine of Life (1921), a spurned lover sends his auto flying off an embankment into Lake Erie. The incident in this novel produces a much happier result, bringing about the meeting of Mary Walsworth and garage mechanic Alan Holt.

"Fresh and fragrant as apple-blossoms in cool summer white", Mary happens to be the daughter of Admiral Charles Pinckney Walsworth, head of the Naval Consulting Board in Washington, DC. Quite a coincidence this, as Alan is working on an invention he hopes to present before the selfsame board: "a device for triangulating radio rays, concentrating them into a single ray of such tremendous force that it would sink ships and set fire to cities."

Admiral Walsworth is unimpressed. "I've had exactly twenty 'death-ray' inventions offered me in the last seven months," he grumbles. "None of them is worth anything. The thing is simply impossible. And stay away from my daughter!"

That last bit in italics is mine; it doesn't appear in the book, though it could have.

Oh, Alan seems a nice enough fellow, and he has been awfully helpful, but Walsworth would remind Mary that he's "a garage-employee in a country ex-blacksmith shop". The admiral cares not one wit that the lad served in his Navy during the Great War, and ignores the fact that Alan's prototype actually works. The rest of the Consulting Board isn't so prejudiced, and offers the young inventor funds to perfect "the most important invention since wireless had been discovered".

Would that security had also been offered.

As Alan works on his death ray device, dark forces gather. Walsworth falls under the spell of a femme fatale, a mysterious tramp wanders outside the grounds and two thugs pose as government agents. All are in the employ of international criminal mastermind Mark Drakma, who intends to sell Alan's invention to a foreign power.

Mary is kidnapped, bound, and thrown into the tonneau of a touring car. Alan too is kidnapped, but as bondage plays a lesser part he's afforded numerous opportunities for escape. One involves an aeroplane!


Sadly, our hero fails at every turn. He and Mary are reunited on a ship somewhere in the Atlantic, where Drakma demands Alan make him a death ray device. If he refuses?
"I've some choice specimens in my working crews off the islands. You'd rather see her thrown into a cage of tigers, I fancy, than passed on to one of those gangs of rum-swilling cutthroats. But as sure as you're standing there I'll put her aboard the foulest schooner I own and leave her there until even you wouldn't want her!"

Drakma's words fire the inventor's imagination:
The helpless youth raised his stricken eyes to the face of the woman he loved. In that face he saw pride and purity. She impressed him as something flower-like and fragile, something to be sheltered and cherished and kept inviolate, something to die for, if need be, before gross hands should reach grossly for her.
Alan agrees to master criminal's terms, but is overturned by Mary, who gives a rousing speech about love of country. A real trooper, she displays great optimism in the face of grossly groping hands:
"It can't be for long, Alan," broke in the girl, her head poised high and her hands clenched hard as she was seized and thrust toward the rail-opening. "And we're doing it for the flag, dear, that men like this daren't even fly!"

Alan is dumped on a remote cay and is told that he'd better get to building that death ray device if he wants to keep Mary inviolate. The flaw in this plan will later be made evident when Alan builds the thing, then uses it to down one of Drakma's aeroplanes.

Now, to be fair to the criminal mastermind, it could be that he expected the cay's other two residents, Don Potter and his "spiggoty" lady friend Dolores to keep a watch on the young inventor.

Potter stands out as the lone character with a bit of flesh on his bones. A bitter and bloated Harvard man, he served valiantly during the Great War, only to be betrayed by his country. "Come back and found they'd taken my liquor away from me", he tells Alan. Short years later, Potter's in charge of Drakma's rum-running distribution centre. Just the occupation for a boozehound.

The shadow of the Great War hangs over this novel. Alan had secured his widowed Quaker mother's blessing to fight overseas by selling the conflict as the War to End All Wars. He couldn't have been more wrong, of course, which must have made dinner conversation about his death ray all the more difficult.
"Once I've got it into shape," he outlined his intentions to her, "I'll offer it to the Navy. If they take it, this country will be placed in a position where the rest of the world will be afraid of us. And the United States will be able to prevent wars between other nations simply by threatening to jump in with the death ray and burn the offenders off the face of the earth."
I wasn't at all convinced.


Being a drunk, Potter never notices the crashed plane, nor does he glom onto the fact that his prisoner is building a raft at the other end of the cay. Alan escapes, taking the death ray device with him. He makes for the foul schooner on which Mary is being held captive, and is quickly overpowered by rum-swilling cutthroats.

If only he'd thought to use his death ray device.


A fire breaks out, as fires do in adventure stories. In the ensuing confusion, Alan and Mary escape on the raft. Drakma's ship gives chase until the US Navy shows up and kills all the crooks.

Again, death rays do not figure.


This brings me to one of the most disappointing and mysterious aspects of the novel. For reasons perhaps known only to Stringer, Holman and Paramount Pictures, Alan never uses his death ray device when in danger. Only once, when downing the aeroplane, does he aim it at the enemy. Other than that it's used to pierce a hole in a small metal plate, destroy a fresh tub of ice cream and give an innocent, unsuspecting old man a series of heart attacks…

You know, maybe Alan isn't such so nice after all. What kind of guy wastes ice cream?

The book disappoints further in that not one of the images from the film shows Alan's death ray device. Tech geeks have to settle for actors staring at a radio.


Another novel that ends in a wedding, I'm afraid. Stringer and Holman forget about the Holts' Quakerism by holding the happy event in "the little elm-shaded church in Latham where Alan and his mother had always worshiped." One sentence begins, "As the old clergyman droned…" I nearly gave up at that point, but stuck it out.

There was less than a page to go.

A Bonus:

Mary, Alan and the death ray device (Photoplay, July 1924)
Bloomer:
"She nearly cost us your 'death-ray' machine and she tried to lead me to an ambush at Drakma's that might have cost me my honor, if not my life. She made love to me with one hand, so to speak, while she attempted to pick my pocket with the other."
Trivia I: The winning suggestion, Without Warning, was announced in the January 1925 issue of Photoplay. Both film and novel were rereleased under this title.


Trivia II: Unreliable and unstable science fiction author F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre claimed to have seen The Story without a Name. His captious review features in the film's IMDb entry.

Trivia III: Forgotten film stars Antonio Mareno and Agnes Ayres were cast as Alan and Mary. The villain Drakma was played by Tyrone Power, father of the more famous Tyrone Power. The senior Power died – quite literally in his son's arms – while filming the 1932 remake of The Miracle Man, based on the novel by Montrealer Frank L. Packard.

Object: A 312-page hardcover supplemented by eight plates depicting scenes from the Paramount Pictures picture. I purchased by copy in April from a bookseller in western New York. Price: US$15. Is it a first? One never really knows with Grosset & Dunlap. I've seen a red-boarded variant.

Access: Though not plentiful, copies of The Story without a Name begin at the low price of US$10. Copies with dust jackets – there are three – can be had for as little as US$60.

Copies of Without Warning are less common. That said, all four currently listed online have their dust jackets. Strange but true. Prices range from US$60 to US$85. Condition is a factor.

A warning about Without Warning: This edition features only four of the plates featured in The Story without a Name.

Twelve of our academic libraries hold copies, as do public libraries serving the residents of Toronto and London.

Related post:

03 August 2015

Mrs. Brown in the Conservatory with the Lead Pipe



In Passion's Fiery Pit
Joy Brown
Toronto: News Stand Library, 1950

In Passion's Fiery Pit features a misprint unlike any other I've seen:


Not Joy Brown's fault, of course, but it does say something about her publisher. News Stand Library didn't much care what it published or who it published. In its stable, Joy Brown stands as lone mare alongside Hugh Garner, Ted Allan, Al Palmer, Raymond Souster and H. Gordon Green in having had something of a writing career. Given her early struggles with punctuation, this is truly remarkable.

In Passion's Fiery Pit was Brown's second novel. The first, Murdered Mistress, had been published by News Stand Library a few months earlier. Night of Terror, her third, was a pre-romance Harlequin. It hit the stands about eight weeks later.


Three novels in one year. Do not be impressed.

This one begins with a bit of a cheat. What's depicted as murder will later be revealed as assault. The victim, Alicia Wallace, turns up dead on the very next page just the same. Her body is discovered amongst the exotic plants in the conservatory of wealthy bachelor Robert Roget.

Yes, a conservatory. Roget builds upon the cliché, sniffing: "It's damned embarrassing… I mean with a houseful of guests."

Houseful? Well, there's Paul Stewart, wife Gwyneth and brother Bridge. The Greys – Tim and Trixie – are also there. That's five, right? Not really a houseful, not for a mansion, though things get a touch more crowded when the police show up. Detective Dan Weaver leads the investigation.

Dan's an interesting fellow. The novel's hero, when first seen he's drinking in the beauty of Alicia's cooling corpse… the curve of her cheek, her full lips and her shapely calves. "She was the kind of girl Dan Weaver had been wanting to meet for a long time. Unfortunately, she was dead."

The trail leads straight to the Three Bells nightclub:
Dan Weaver did a double take. The somebody sitting on the piano should have been lying in a steaming conservatory with her skull crushed. But here she was singing in a hushed, tuneless voice. Nobody seemed to care what sort of a singer she'd make.
Here the author dodges cliché by making Alicia's doppelgänger, torch singer Phyllis, a younger sister. Alicia may have been as bad, but she was no evil twin.

Because Dan clearly has a type, he falls for Phyllis, and redoubles his efforts to solve the murder. He's not afraid to cut a corner in getting at the truth. This Canadian is fully prepared to walk into a room without knocking first.

Sergeant Cummings, Dan's superior, is infuriated by this maverick behaviour:
"I've mentioned that to you before. You're still on the force, you know, even if you're not in uniform, and the rules are that..."
     "But you find out more this way. I make a few exceptions to a few rules. I like a variation of a theme. And see what happens? I find two boudoir scenes in one afternoon." Dan waved his hand, "What is this thing called procedure."
     Cummings frowned. He had mentioned things like this to Weaver before, but the younger man paid no attention.
The two boudoir scenes aren't all that much – a fully clothed woman walks out of a bedroom, a man comforts a grieving widow – and neither is pertinent to the case. Dan is overselling things. He really has no idea what he's doing. I'm not sure Brown did, either. In the course of his investigation, Dan settles on Alicia's former husband Jeff Wallace as the murderer, for no other reason than they divorced. You know, acrimony and all that. Blackmail, too, though this makes no sense.

As Alicia's ex doesn't seem to be around, Dan becomes convinced that one of the men present on the night of the murder is in actuality Wallace. He's proven wrong in a most public way by Phyllis, but feels no embarrassment. Dan's big break comes at the end of the novel when the murderer drinks too much and spills the beans. Sergeant Cummings is impressed.


In truth, Dan isn't much of a detective, and In Passion's Fiery Pit isn't much of a mystery. It's no wonder that News Stand Library tried to sell the thing as something spicy: "GREEN EYES - RED HAIR - and FLAMING LIPS", but no mention of murder. Sadly, the hottest action involves women primping before mirrors and crossing rooms in varying states of undress. There's lots of lingerie, though much of it is superfluous:
She scampered ahead of him into the bedroom, and then proceeded to dress before his interested eyes in such a flurry of panties, garters belts, bras and stockings that she was fully clothed in a brief moment.
Brief moment.

No pun intended.

To my great surprise, the word "diaphanous" doesn't feature.

Object and Access: A typical News Stand Library production with requisite 160 pages. The cover is by Syd Dyke.

My copy was purchased in June from a New York bookseller. Price: US$4.00. I was lucky. Just four copies are listed for sale online, the cheapest of which goes for C$20.00. At C$140.00, the one you want to buy is graced with another of those odd and uncommon NSL dust jackets.

Not listed on Amicus or WorldCat.

My thanks to Bowdler at Canadian Fly-By-Night for the image of Murdered Mistress.

Related posts: